Family therapy is an effective way to deal with problems regarding adolescents, parenting, addiction, depression, anxiety and much more. When a mother and father bring in their 15-year-old son because he is drinking, using drugs, has a bad attitude, is failing out of school and is involved in risky behavior – I ask the parents to participate in counseling with him to be a part of the solution. The relationship between mom and dad, the relationship between mom and son and the relationship between dad and son matter in regard to this young man’s healthy life style choices. As a therapist of adolescents for over a decade now, I have found that more often than not, when success happens for adolescents in therapy it is accompanied with a mom and dad who are involved and willing.
Most adolescents don’t want to do counseling. They often make excuses and say that they don’t want to follow the rules and that f their parents loved them that they wouldn’t give them a curfew. The ironic thing is that children push back against boundaries and rules, but thrive within them. They need them to feel safe and loved. They often test the boundaries to see if mom and dad are there and if they care. Its hard to tell, however, because they say that they don’t want their parents to tell them what to do.
One of the developmental tasks of adolescence is to learn how to become your own individual while still remaining a part of a group (i.e., a family, church or school). It often feels like trying to mix oil and water for teenagers in this position. Learning that they don’t have to do the opposite of what their parents say in order to be independent or their own individual is key. Rather, following the family rules and making choices on their own that are complimentary help them develop their sense of being their own person.
One of the developmental tasks of parenthood is learning how to parent a child differently as they grow. Parenting a 5 year old is different than parenting a 15 year old. I see, however, many parents not making this transition and feeling stuck with their adolescent. They hover over their teenager, for example, in an effort to not let them make mistakes. Its ok for teenagers to make mistakes. Parents don’t have to (and can’t!) protect them from all of life misfortunes. Teenagers need space to make mistakes and have an open relationship with their parents to talk about them.
So, if you are a parent struggling with a teenager remember that changing your parenting style to match their age matters. Engaging in therapy, when needed, can help you and your child become healthy and happy.